Men and women get sick in different ways

At the dawn of third millennium medical researchers still know very little about gender-specific differences in illness, particularly when it comes to disease symptoms, influencing social and psychological factors, and the ramifications of these differences for treatment and prevention.

Medical research conducted over the past 40 years has focused almost exclusively on male patients.

A new article titled “Gender medicine: a task for the third millennium” presents research on gender-related differences conducted by Giovannella Baggio of Padua University Hospital and her team.

The article, which appears in the Journal “Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine” (CCLM), highlights evidence for considerable differences between the sexes in five domains – cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver diseases, osteoporosis, and pharmacology.

Typically perceived as a male illness, cardiovascular disease often displays markedly different symptoms among women. While a constricted chest and pain that radiates through the left arm are standard signs of heart attack in men, in women the usual symptoms are nausea and lower abdominal pain. Although heart attacks in women are more severe and complicated, when complaining of these non-specific symptoms women often do not receive the necessary examination procedures, such as an ECG , enzyme diagnostic tests or coronary angiography.

Obese_WomanColon cancer is the second most common form of cancer among men and women. However, women suffer this illness at a later stage in life. Furthermore, colon tumors typically have a different location in women, and they respond better to specific chemical treatments. Gender also has an impact on the patient’s responsiveness to chemotherapy administered to treat cancer, such as colon, lung, or skin cancer. In this way, gender impacts the course of the disease and the patient’s chances for survival.

Primary biliary cirrhosis is a liver disease that primarily affects women. The authors of the study provide clear evidence that for this disease and chronic hepatitis C, the genetic makeup and differing hormone levels of females are a primary risk factor. This finding also applies to osteoporosis. While typically viewed as a female disease because of the much higher rate of female patients, osteoporosis also strikes men. The study contends that osteoporosis is too often overlooked in male patients, and it documents a higher mortality rate among men suffering bone fractures.

Baggio and her team also show variation between men and women in the pharmacology of aspirin and other substances. Differences in action and side effects are attributable to different body types, varying reaction times in the absorption and elimination of substances, and a fundamentally different hormonal status. Thus, to administer medication safely and effectively, the dosage and duration of treatment must take the patient’s gender into account.

The study concludes that additional and more far-reaching clinical investigations of gender differences are needed in order to eliminate fundamental inequalities between men and women in the treatment of disease.

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1 thought on “Men and women get sick in different ways”

  1. “Medical research conducted over the past 40 years has focused almost exclusively on male patients.”

    That’s a big statement to make with no supporting evidence of any kind. And in fact, it’s not true. This is a fabricated myth to justify ever increasing expenditures on women’s health at the expense of men’s health.

    Women’s health is funded at twice the rate that men’s health is. There are seven offices of women’s health and none for men in the U.S. government. And women have not been shortchanged in medical research either. A review of the evidence shows equal or possibly preferential treatment for women.

    In the 10 years prior to mid-2006, gender-specific systematic reviews were published on women three and a half times more than on men.[vii] In the same period, the number of randomized controlled trials (the highest quality research) using only women is nearly twice as large as that for men.[viii] Since as far back as major computer searches can access complete records (1965) most gender-specific research pertains to women. For the four 10-year periods beginning in 1965, bibliographic searches find 16%, 13%, 18%, and 30% more gender-specific research was published on women.[ix])


    A review of sex-specific enrollments in medical research studies, and an examination of the number of epidemiologic studies and clinical trials that included men and women, point to two conclusions: 1) Historically, women were routinely included in medical research, and 2) Women have participated in medical research in numbers at least proportionate to the overall female population.


    Contrary to longstanding public perception, women do not appear to be under represented or understudied in scientific clinical research trials in the United States, according to a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. The findings were most pronounced among cancer related clinical trials. The researchers concluded that women are represented in twice as many cancer trials compared to men, even though men die more frequently from the disease and often die at an earlier age.


    Though it is commonly believed that American health-care delivery and research benefit men at the expense of women, the truth appears to be exactly the opposite


    It may appear that this type of disinformation concerning men’s issues, so common in the NYT, is due the ignorance or incompetence of its staff. But I suspect the cause is more serious – a pervasive bigotry against men that leads to biased reporting of all topics touching on gender.

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